Marketing Your Corn Maze
Here’s where you get to let your imagination soar! You can attract visitors to your corn maze through a variety of marketing methods. Don’t be afraid to set a budget and test the ROI of new techniques. If you are struggling to come up with ideas for marketing your corn maze, here are some ideas that you may want to test.
Get the word out! People won’t come if they don’t know they can. Advertising doesn’t have to be costly-just effective. Using either your own printer (ink isn’t that expensive) or your local office supply store, print up some fliers or brochures. If you don’t think you are computer savvy enough to pull this off, ask a teenager; they are. The flier or brochure should tell what, where, when and how much. In covering the cost of the maze and other activities you might offer, make sure you include information such as ‘cash or check only’ ‘credit/debit cards accepted’, etc. AND have a logo this is distinctive to your farm. If you are using black ink (which is definitely the most cost effective) use colored paper-not the discount store neon or primaries, but something nice. Other information potential guests find helpful: what happens in the event of rain, what the cost includes, other available activities and whether or not it is handicap accessible. NOTE: Most mazes aren’t.
Don’t discount the importance of having an aerial photo of the maze taken. This should be included in your brochures, website and other forms of print advertising. People like to see what they’re winding their way through. This will also be a major plus if you go the sponsorship route. Your sponsor will likely want to use the picture in some of their advertising, as well.
Where you ‘get the word’ is essential to successfully marketing your maze. Take advantage of free venues such as Facebook. Your page should include pictures, wall posts by you inviting people to the maze and announcing special events held at the farm. Posts should be welcome and encouraged by visitors. You can increase your page’s visibility by inviting friends to ‘like’ your page.
Websites are invaluable. You can create your own using templates at www.webstarts.com or any number of other similar sites. When setting up your website, be sure you purchase your domain name and hosting services. A domain name and professional hosting service can be purchased for as little as $20 per year for each service. This is a minute sum to pay for the visibility you get. Purchasing your hosting service will buy you search engine visibility with Yahoo, Google MSN and other popular search engines. When building your website, you need to make sure it includes a few pictures (not too many or else it will slow down the loading of your site), contact information, maze information (cost, location, hours of operation, extra activities offered, special events), a visitors page for comments and maybe even an interactive page; work through the maze on line. Google Pages ads are also a great way to go to increase your visibility to the masses.
For minimal cost, you can also become a member of your state’s agricultural development programs, which provides wide-spread visibility for your farm. Membership benefits often include listings in agritourism and value-added directories, promotional materials such as signs, posters, stickers and brochures and invitations to display materials at agricultural conferences and expos.
Speaking or farm shows and expos…do them! Setting up a booth at county and state fairs, community business expos, agricultural expos and events that focus on tourism in your state or region is money well spent. Just be sure to bring out the big guns in the people skills department and have a smile and friendly word for everyone who passes by. It’s also an excellent idea (emphasis on the word ‘excellent’) to have a draw to your booth; something that gets people’s attention. This could be a give-away with the name, logo and contact info of your maze such as a pen, refrigerator magnet, sticky notes or cup holder. Or it could be something more on the interactive side such continuous playing video of the maze being cut, people going through, etc. Activity pages focusing on the maze for the kids are always good (you can include mini packs of crayons with your farm’s logo).
Local websites or print media that offer free postings of want ads and items for sale are a possibility as well. Place your ad in the ‘things to do’ or community calendar section.
Contact your local chamber of commerce-maybe even invite the chamber board and/or city council members out for a free walk-thru. Join the chamber and ask to be included in their tourism brochures and community entertainment information.
Targeted direct mailing is relatively inexpensive, and when done properly, produces results. People groups you should target include:
- Schools and child care facilities-be sure to include other activities offered and information on group rates and scheduling details.
- Churches-both youth groups and family outings
- Fraternity and sorority houses-stress the no tobacco/alcohol policies without sounding overly strict. Have your brochure worded in such a way that the rules are in compliance with your insurance (which they are).
- School clubs (FFA, FBLA, student council….) Groups such as this will often use a venue such as yours for a fundraising event. Help them out by offering to time participants, helping collect canned goods or by donating a portion of their admittance to their cause.
- Scouting and 4-H clubs are always looking for great places to have fun. These groups will be appreciative of any educational spin you can put on their visit such as facts about farming, corn or a craft or activity page to take with them.
- Organized play groups such as MOPS; either just the moms or mother-child teams.
- Senior groups such as those organized by banks; those that are ‘young at heart’ understand and appreciate the value of spending locally. Make sure you give them the opportunity to do so…with you.
- Businesses such as banks, insurance offices, investment houses, real estate agencies and auto dealerships are always looking for innovative ways to build team-work skills. Work with the HR people of businesses such as these to use your maze in their efforts to do so.
Signage is important. Other than putting a sign on your property, you’ll need to check with your county or state highway department as to the regulations you need to follow. Magnetized signs for your vehicle are invaluable. Everywhere you go and every stoplight or stop sign you wait through gives people the opportunity to know what your farm has to offer.
Take advantage of your local newspaper. Most offer profiles on new businesses for little or no charge. They will most likely print information (both before and after) on events held at the maze that involve a charity or fund-raising.
Radio stations run PSAs (Public Service Announcements) at no cost. Again, if you’re hosting or co-sponsoring an event that such as a health fair, FFA food drive or maze-a-thon for the cancer society, you’ll be able to advertise for free. Purchasing radio spots may be worth it as well. Here is a case study where Rutledge Corn Maze advertised through Clear Channel.
Social network buying sites such as GROUPON have proven to be successful marketing tools for large retailers and food chains. They could possibly work for you as well, but before getting into such programs, do your homework and communicate with other businesses similar to yours who have done so. Learn from their success or misfortune.
On a similar note, but one not nearly as ‘risky’ is to participate in your community’s local buy-one-get-one programs. Many of these are done via the sale of discount cards that benefit local schools. NOTE: Virtually anything your business does to promote the youth of your community is a winner in the ‘money well spent’ category.
T-shirts. They don’t have to be the best quality of t-shirt on the market, but they do need to have the name of your maze, a phone number and website. Sell them at the maze as well as giving them away to random visitors, those celebrating birthdays at the maze, those purchasing packages of activities and employees.
Make sure your maze isn’t just any ordinary corn maze. Allow for varying degrees of complexity in the maze as well as treasure hunt mazes (participants find clues and objects along the way).
Offer alternative/additional activities. You might want to include cornhusk doll making, concessions (Cider and popcorn), a sandbox filled with shell corn for little ones to dig in, activity pages that have to do with farming (contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on tailor-made activities for your farm), face painting, pumpkins and even hayrides and petting zoos.
Group rates and a half-price admission for anyone bringing canned goods for the local food shelter are also great incentives for coming out, as is package pricing for multiple activities you offer (if you do).
Work in conjunction with the local hospital or health care clinics to co-sponsor a maze-a-thon, 5K maze run and health fair complete with wellness checks and games for the whole family. Be sure to notify the media, because something like this will surely merit free advertising since it’s a public service.
Fund raisers for charities or other organizations such as races, barbeques or those similar to those mentioned in conjunction with the hospital often brings hundreds of people that might not otherwise come on their own. It’s your job to make sure that once they’ve been there they’ll be eager to come back.
Consider other joint marketing ventures. Remember, there’s strength in numbers. Team up with a greenhouse and offer to sell mums and other fall flowers in exchange for a percentage of the profits. Invite a local photographer to set up a couple of fall backgrounds on the farm for family pictures on a commission basis and to take pictures of maze goers in the maze and engaging in any other activities you offer. Again, this can be done on a commission or percentage basis.
While this may seem counter-productive at first glance, working WITH other mazes in the area can be of benefit to all of you. An annual MAZE DAY MARATHON could easily become one of your area’s most popular events of the season. The marathon could include scavenger hunts in the mazes, timed races (whose maze can be completed most quickly) or a joint effort to raise money for local food pantries.
Make your maze THE place to be on Halloween (or the Saturday prior to). With a paid (or discounted) admission, those in costume can go through the maze collecting candy from workers or volunteers handing it out along the way.
Make sure no one leaves empty-handed. Give each visitor a thank-you note in the form of an activity page, coupon for a percentage off their next visit (good for a year) or a recipe for cornbread. And remember, if you do go the co-sponsor route’ your sponsor’s advertising materials need to be given as well.
Remember, though, your marketing is only as good as your follow-thru. Don’t promise or advertise something you don’t have. That’s a killer if there ever was one for any business.
Marketing your corn maze will require some expense, but when done wisely, the return for your money will be substantial. Research in the world of agritourism shows you should be prepared to spend 15% of your expected income on advertising and marketing. Yes, expected. You can’t expect people to come if they don’t know there’s something worth coming to, where or when to come. Be prudent, but not stingy.
You have almost finished the guide to starting a corn maze. There’s just one section left: concluding thoughts.